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Therapy Dog Awareness Month 2023: Greys make great therapy dogs

September is Therapy Dog Awareness Month and while many dog breeds help humans in this way, it’s little known that Greyhounds can make great therapy dogs. In fact, Greyhounds have been used as therapy dogs all over the world due to their calm and gentle nature.

But what exactly is a therapy dog? According to Therapy Dogs Australia, a therapy dog is a dog that has been trained with its handler (usually their owner), to provide therapeutic intervention to another person in the community (e.g. allied health client, school student, nursing home resident).

However, therapy dogs also provide comfort, companionship and emotional support to an individual who might benefit. 

Known as the cheeky pup, Benson the therapy dog isn’t perfect which, according to his handler Ryan Olender, made him a perfect fit as a teacher’s support worker at Lake Illawarra High School. In 2013, when the program with Assistance Dogs Australia started, Benson was NSW’s first therapy dog and for the past decade he has actively helped to change the lives of hundreds of children with special needs.

Greyhounds as Therapy Dogs

But how does an ex-racing Greyhound make the journey from the track to being a therapy dog or companion dog? The first step is fostering.

It is a common misconception that community-run Greyhound rescues have kennels where Greyhounds are fostered and prepared for homing. Instead, the reality is that fostering is done by members of the public in their own homes as volunteers with Greyhound rescue groups that operate as charities.

In fact, one such group has no set base office. IWaG, which stands for I Want A Greyhound, is a not-for-profit rehoming, education and support charity in Queensland. 

Jacky Nesbit with kitten Sunday &
foster Greyhound Jade
Jacky and Keith Nesbit, who foster for IWaG, said their foster dogs begin by learning the basics of pet life.

"This involves house training, basic commands, plus negotiating stairs and loose lead walking. One of my recent fosters, Greyhound Basil, also learned to live happily with other breeds of dogs and even cats," said Jacky.

While fostering, the Nesbitt household also had a cat, three other Greyhounds and a Golden Retriever that Jacky was minding for Assistance Dogs Australia.

"I watched Basil to see how comfortable he was around these other dogs and he proved to be well mannered and tolerant," she said.

Greyhound Basil now lives with Tania Perisic, who adopted him from I Want A Greyhound. Tania is visually impaired and Basil serves as her companion animal. After four months of foster training with the Nesbits, Basil bonded with Tania.

Basil's journey from kennel to companion has been amazing.
Tania out and about with Basil

"Basil then started getting out and about, meeting people for compliments and pats which he loves. He was also exposed to new experiences and places, including shops, as well as Vision Australia where he's a regular visitor with Tania," said Jacky.

"Tania and Basil have built a beautiful bond. It started with short visits of a few hours, followed by sleepovers and then long weekends hanging out together. It didn't take Basil long to squeeze onto the lounge with Tania - all 40kgs of him - and start roaching on her bed. It's now their bed!"

According to Tania, Basil is a sticky beak who often stands at the door to see what's going on.

‘’Also, he often jumps on the bed and touches me with his nose before plopping down beside me. He knows when I’m scared and gets excited when my support workers come,” said Tania. When the social workers come over they help with the cooking, cleaning and help to walk Basil.

'I was interested in a Greyhound because I heard a lot about them and how gentle they were.’’

Therapy Dog Greyhound Basil on the couch with Tania - Photo Credit Kiss Photography

As well as his new mum Tania, Basil has a cockatiel, Paul, for company. And to top it all, Basil is doing assistance dog training.
‘’Greyhounds are a good breed. They are gentle, quiet and as a blind person they make me feel perfectly safe,’’ said Tania.
‘’I find Greyhounds' bigger size easy to handle. I would recommend fully sighted people get one. We must do our best to save them from the racing industry.’’

Meanwhile, volunteer and president of IWaG Kim Nakajima, who is also its adoption and foster coordinator, said Basil’s foster parents, Jacky and Keith Nesbit, have earned a huge 'thank you' and gratitude from IWaG.

Kim Nakajima IWaG President with Greyhounds Ernie and Nezumi
"They put an amazing amount of time, patience, dedication and love into helping 'Basil Britches' adjust and shine in his new life," said Kim.

Jacky Nesbit's Greyhounds
William (black) & Bart
Modest Jacky credits her own Greyhounds as being a great help to newly arrived foster Greyhounds like Basil.

‘’My Greyhound Bart is a sensitive, silent boy who loves to be close. He likes to please and is a gentle guide to any other guest dogs we have in our home. He also loves to roach and is now 11 years old," she said.

“My Kimmy, who is now ten years old , has a strong independent personality and decides when she wants your attention and when she prefers her own company. She is the ‘spokes-dog' and will announce when she wants to go outside or come inside, or that it's dinner time.”

Jacky also has a third Greyhound - a black one called William.

“He is Kimmy's shadow, but if she goes outside, Bart won't move from his comfy spot. While he enjoys everyone's company, if he is not around, he will have taken himself to our bedroom to get comfy on our bed,” she said.

Jacky decided to foster and adopt Greyhounds after working in the veterinary industry where she got some experience in rehoming Greyhounds.

‘’Some years down the track, when we were looking to adopt another dog, I convinced my husband to go with a Greyhound,’’ she said.

Over the years, the Nesbits have fostered seven Greyhounds and adopted three of them.

"Prior to that I was involved with Vision Australia's Seeing Eye Dogs effort. I see fostering as an extension of that,’’ said Jacky.

"We fostered Basil to prepare him to match with Tania. I've known her for many years, having first met her through Vision Australia. Basil is always happy to see us when we all get together. It is lovely to see the bond between him and Tania.‘’

Jacky said the main challenge with fostering is being patient because Greyhounds have not been exposed to the world.

‘’New experiences can be overwhelming for Greyhounds. For instance, some will learn quicker than others while others will never use the stairs,” said Jacky.
‘’However, the rewards are that you get to see this dog blossom and blend into the family. I believe that there are more rewards than challenges.‘’
Jacky encourages other people to consider fostering Greyhounds.

‘’Greyhounds are a misunderstood breed. Most people associate them with racing, but that’s not what they're all about," said Jacky. ‘’Greyhounds deserve all the opportunities that come with fostering and adoption.’’

Andrea Pollard, president of the Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds (CPG), considers fostering to be essential.

"As the RSPCA says in its policy
the Greyhound racing industry has many welfare issues that impact the health and well being of greyhounds. For example, results from CPG's national survey of greyhound rescue groups around Australia shows that many racing dogs miss out on being socialised," she said.

The RSPCA states the recognised socialisation period is when a pup starts to learn about their world is 3-18 weeks of age. This is the time when pups should be safely exploring new sounds, sights and smells to help them develop confidence for their life ahead.

Because there is virtually no socialisation for the majority of Greyhound pups, they are more likely to develop fear, anxiety, phobias and aggression. Andrea Pollard said CPG's survey revealed many rescue groups reported that the majority of Greyhounds arriving on their doorstep display signs of stress and are fearful of humans.

CPG's national survey of community-run greyhound rescue groups

"Many of these dogs aren't able to negotiate stairs or walk easily on surfaces that are not concrete because the racing industry failed to teach them how," she said.

"However on a positive note, due to fostering done by community volunteers, there are many Greyhounds that do learn these things and end up enjoying the same kind of life as any other pet dog."

Andrea has pet Greyhounds herself, including Hope, who was rescued from the infamous Macau Canidrome.

Andrea Pollard CPG President with her Greyhound Hope

“Even Greyhounds like Hope can learn to live a happy life and it’s up to us to have the patience and love to ensure they get this chance. Watching an ex-racing Greyhound relax and realise it is a safe and loved pet is one of the most rewarding experiences you can ever have,” she said.

If you think you could help a Greyhound transition to pet life by being a foster carer, see here or email IWaG at

If you would like to get involved in greyhound welfare advocacy, see here for how to volunteer with CPG.

written by Abbey Billot and Fiona Chisholm, August 2023 for Australian Dog Lover (all rights reserved). 

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